You only have a couple of minutes to escape a house fire - InfoNews

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You only have a couple of minutes to escape a house fire

Modern furniture burns so easily and quickly that there is much less time to escape a house fire than there was a generation ago.
Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
December 21, 2018 - 5:30 PM

KELOWNA - Modern furniture burns so easily and quickly that there is much less time to escape a house fire than there was a generation ago.

“You can be in a concrete bunker but a whole room can do flash over - which means everything is on fire - in two to three minutes,” Kelowna fire prevention officer Gayanne Pacholzuk said. “The bottom line is, you need to get out as soon as your smoke alarm is ringing because there’s a reason why it’s ringing.”

Furniture from before the 1990s tended to mostly be made of wood, and fabrics like wool. Now they’re made of synthetic, more flammable materials.

The fire department has side-by-side containers where they’ve set fire to old furniture in one and modern couches in another. It takes much longer for the older stuff to burn.

“I think, unfortunately, you get the furniture companies who say, no they (fire departments) are wrong,” Pacholzuk said. “I have to go with tried and true.”

Furniture can be sprayed with fire retardant chemicals but that only slows the fire a little plus the chemicals give off toxic fumes, she said.

“Is the benefit of 20 seconds of it lighting on fire, with a certain chemical, does that outweigh the safety of the firefighters?” she asked, noting the increasing concerns of cancer in firefighters.

And people should not take comfort in the fact that couches fires aren’t that common.

“The number one reason for house fires is cooking, unattended cooking or cooking when you’re not paying attention,” Pacholzuk said. “A lot of people are cooking but they’re also on their computer or they’re texting or they’re watching TV while they’re cooking. And a lot of the time it’s a grease fire and it just spreads so quickly because it’s a hot fire.”

Which may offer some comfort for those who have their synthetic furniture some distance from their stoves. But that’s not necessarily going to help.

“Once it starts and you get that heat build-up and you get the layering of that heat, it just spreads fast and furious,” Pacholzuk said, noting that the flames don’t have to reach into the living room. The heat alone can cause everything to explode into flame.

Not that people are going to burn to death. Most die from smoke inhalation of having their lungs scorched by the hot air.

It doesn’t appear that furniture and fabric manufacturers are going to change their methods any time soon.

“I’m not saying to stop buying the beautiful furniture because it is lovely,” Pacholzuk said. “However, be cognizant of the fact that, if there’s a fire in your place, you need to get out and you need to get out quickly.”


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